Saturday, September 6, 2008

Educating for Values (Can't Get Away from It)

And speaking of character. And educating people to have sound values and to make informed decisions about values. And the importance of telling the truth and not trying to deceive your constituencies by means of smokescreens of half-truths and downright untruths:

More bad news from the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) this week. This is especially bad news for colleges and universities that tout themselves as highly successful because their ratings have risen in the ranking of colleges in U.S. News & World Report. As I’ve noted in previous postings about UCA, at the very same time it was reporting record jumps in income and students (reports—self-submitted—that are key to claiming a higher rating in U.S. News & World Report), it earned negative scrutiny around the nation due to some serious lapses in ethical judgment on the part of its president Lu Hardin, who has now resigned.

The story breaking this week is that UCA’s financial situation is considerably worse than recent reports had led the public to believe ( Anticipating a shortfall, the school has been forced to reduce scholarship expenditures by some $3.5 million, as well as to cut operating expenses. The school is now faced with paying out $1 million to Mr. Hardin as part of his severance package.

Again, my primary concern with this story has to do with what seems to me to the very heart and soul of American higher education, in the social contract it has made with the nation: that is, teaching values. And doing so by modeling values. Beginning with the top levels of a college or university.

If, when, boards do not hold presidents accountable to model impeccable values, if boards themselves elide over values questions in evaluating presidents, it is no wonder that students do not graduate with strong skills to make sound values judgments. We simply have to do a better job of focusing on character formation in all of our educational institutions, from primary school to graduate school. And to do so, we need to leave behind once and for all the numbers nonsense.

It’s values that are important, not dollars generated (or dollars we claim we’ve generated). Producing graduates who have strong values and the ability to make value judgments in professional and public life. And modeling those values from the top down, within our educational institutions. So that students know that values truly are paramount, and not just window-dressing as we prepare them to do jobs.